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New Report Finds American Taxpayers Have Paid More Than $1B in Five Years for Police Misconduct Cases

eric garnerBad policing has cost American taxpayers more than $1 billion, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. WSJ reporters Zusha Elinson and Dan Frosch conducted an in-depth study of public records and found the cost of settling police misconduct cases has almost doubled over a five-year period.

“The 10 cities with the largest police departments paid out $248.7 million last year in settlements and court judgments in police-misconduct cases, up 48 percent from $168.3 million in 2010, according to data gathered by The Wall Street Journal through public-records requests,” reported the WSJ. “Those cities collectively paid out $1.02 billion over those five years in such cases, which include alleged beatings, shootings and wrongful imprisonment.”

Ultimately, taxpayers end up footing the bill for these settlements. Cities either pay the legal costs by self insuring, with the money coming from city funds, or the cases are handled by insurance companies. But just like car insurance, the more claims filed, the higher the premium. However, officers rarely end up paying out of their pockets for bad behavior. Notorious Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has managed to fend off several decades of lawsuits, because the county picks up the tab. The Arizona Republic reported lawsuits against the Maricopa sheriff’s department have cost the county $44 million. And that’s one of the reasons why Arpaio stays in office. The minute he retires, he becomes responsible for the legal costs, according to a Salon article.

Of all the the cities tracked by the WSJ, New York had the costliest police department, racking up $601.3 million in legal costs over five years. Payments for settlements and judgments jumped from $93.8 in fiscal year 2013 to $165 million in 2014, reported the WSJ. The city recently paid the family of Eric Garner, who was choked to death during an altercation with Staten Island police, a $5.9 million settlement.

Sometimes incidents of police abuse are so blatant municipalities want to settle the cases quickly to stop bad publicity. The County of San Bernardino took two weeks to pay Francis Pusok $650,000 after a news helicopter captured sheriff’s deputies kicking and punching him. Pusok didn’t even have time to file a lawsuit before he received a cash settlement.

While some legal experts say the prevalence of camera phones is capturing more cases of police misconduct, that’s not always the case. Municipalities are still paying for decades-old cases of police abuse.

“New York City agreed last year to pay $41 million to five Black and Hispanic men imprisoned for the 1989 beating and rape of a jogger in Central Park, then freed after another man confessed and DNA evidence confirmed his story,” reported the WSJ. “In 2013 and 2014, for example, Chicago paid more than $60 million in cases where people were wrongfully imprisoned decades ago because of alleged police misconduct.”

However, the problem of expensive police misconduct cases is not just confined to big cities. Albuquerque, N.M. also has a police department with a troubling record of human rights abuses.

“The city of about 550,000 has had a high number of fatal police shootings and has spent more than $25 million on civil-rights and police-misconduct settlements over the past five years, with annual payouts nearly quadrupling over that period,” reported the WSJ. “Earlier this month, Albuquerque officials reached a $5 million settlement with the family of James Boyd, a mentally unstable homeless man who was shot by police in 2014 in an incident captured on video.”

Unfortunately, there seems to be a disconnect between the public and the police. Taxpayers don’t seem to realize they are footing the bill for bad policing.

“Civil suits can win financial settlements. But maybe it’s time for taxpayers to start insisting their elected officials invest in better-trained police officers who avoid costly lawsuits,” suggested an Atlanta Black Star article.

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